So January 1, 2014, has come and gone.  While many people were busily ringing in the new year, others were celebrating a different kind of fresh start: one marked by the reassurance of having health insurance.

Although the rollout of healthcare.gov and even some state health insurance marketplaces was less than ideal, Americans who need and want health insurance are persisting – and getting results.  Results that amount to more than just receiving a health insurance card in the mail.  As a recent Washington Post article highlighted, results that mean Americans who have put off scheduling routine gynecological procedures and dermatological check-ups can now afford to do so; people who have not had a physical in years can schedule one to put their minds at ease – even if they do not appear to be currently suffering from any ailments; and individuals who previously feared experiencing an injury for which they could not afford treatment are able to go for a jog.

For these individuals, getting insurance may not have been not easy.  But their persistence in seeking coverage through the health insurance marketplace and Medicaid programs newly expanded in some states has paid off in the form of peace of mind and the ability to take better care of themselves.  Putting aside political differences, while the mere presence of health insurance does not in and of itself guarantee better health, having affordable health insurance at least gives Americans a fighting chance to improve their physical, mental, and emotional health.  As the Washington Post article (aptly titled “Beneath health law’s botched rollout is basic benefit for millions of uninsured Americans”) points out:

Various studies have found that children without insurance are less likely to get immunized or treated for a sore throat or even a ruptured appendix.  Adults without coverage are less likely to get mammograms or prostate exams.  If they have high blood pressure or diabetes, it is more likely to be out of control.  If they have a stroke, it is more likely to leave lasting damage.  The Institute of Medicine has said there’s “a chasm”between the health needs of uninsured people and their access to effective care — a gap that “esults in needless illness, suffering and even death.”

Moreover, having health insurance should also have at least a tangential positive impact on the financial “health” of many Americans.  Consider the following statistics reported by the American Journal of Medicine:

  • 62.1% of all bankruptcies have a medical cause
  • Most medical debtors are well educated and middle class – and three quarters have health insurance!
  • The share of bankruptcies attributable to medical problems rose by 50% between 2001 and 2007
  • Of the families who started out with insurance but lost it during the course of their illness, medical bills averaged $22,658.

So how many people have actually signed up for coverage so far under the Affordable Care Act?  According to the Obama Administration, as of December 31, 2013, 2.1 million people have signed up for health insurance through the health insurance marketplaces and another 3.9 million people have been determined eligible for Medicaid.

While the architects of the law hypothesized that newly insured individuals would be about split between those who accessed coverage through the marketplaces and those who got coverage under Medicaid, it is likely that the slow rollout of the marketplaces is initially impacting the numbers.

Whether these 6 million Americans are now getting their health insurance through a qualified health plan sold in the marketplace or through Medicaid, one thing is clear.  Despite the difficulty they may have had obtaining coverage, it will provide them new opportunities to improve their health.